If you drive by First Christian Church at 701 NW 15th St. in Blue Springs this weekend, you may notice something different.
A newly constructed village of makeshift shelters is set up on the church’s front lawn. These houses have walls made out of either cardboard or wooden pallets and plastic tarp serves as a roof. For two nights, a dozen church members, ranging from children to adults, will brave the elements and live inside these shelters in order to raise awareness of a recurring issue facing the greater Kansas City area: Homelessness.
By simulating a weekend in the life of the homeless, First Christian Church hopes to collect gently used (and washed) blankets, coats and other warm items donated by the general public for those in need this winter. Now in its eighth year, the event held at the Blue Springs church has been proven to be successful.
“One year we had a truck trailer unload hundreds of hospital linens here at the church,” says Bryan Couch, Operation Chill-Out coordinator, a ministry of First Christian Church that supplies blankets and other supplies to various Kansas City agencies. He said the event has collected hundreds of thousands of warm items since it first started. “We know how big the demand is, we just need the stock for it each year.”
Pastor Cliff Caton said the idea for “Freezin’ for a Reason,” the name of the overnight homeless simulation, arose when he and parish members volunteered at a homeless shelter in downtown Kansas City years ago.
“I remember there were not enough coats or blankets for those in need,” recalls Caton. “It was really hard to tell them there were simply not enough to give.” Subsequently church members proposed the idea of having a campout that serves as a warm-item collection drive to help the unfortunate. Some of the people who comprise the dozen camping out this weekend have been participating in this awareness event since its inception.
The event replicating how the homeless live for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year will end on Sunday. The only warmth they will have is either from a fire in a barrel or their sleeping bags, along with how many layers of clothing they decide to wear. No showering and brushing teeth, either.
“It’s a humbling experience,” says Couch, who is also one of the dozen. “I live not too far from here (First Christian Church) and see the steam rising from my house’s pipes.”
Although the participants involved in “Freezin’” will be receiving their meals from the church, Caton says it’s not much of a difference since many ministries across the metropolitan area deliver meals by truck to several homeless campsites.
Donna Caton, Cliff’s wife, who was busily baking 600-plus cookies to provide for those who donate this weekend, said all the donated items will be going to local agencies such as City Union, Feed the People, KC Rescue, Micah Clothes, Restart Inc. and Salvation Army.
Couch says the exact number of homeless in the Kansas City area is difficult to determine, however, there is still a need each and every year.
“In past years, the public has responded overwhelmingly.” Cliff added. “We’ll take anything warm... just as long as you would put your child in the clothing you donated.”
And if you can’t make it to this weekend’s event, First Christian Church will be placing bins outside their building from now until the end of this month where you can donate warm items. Monetary donations will be accepted as well, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward purchasing new coats, blankets and other items for winter. For any questions or more information about First Christian Church’s “Freezin’ for a Reason,” call 816-229-8400.